Comfort Food

Comfort Food

Cabbage Rolls - New Twist

For those of us with European roots, many of our family comfort foods found their origins in what we refer to, today, as the Middle East. Christian crusaders and dealers along the trade routes carried these foodways into European countries 1500 years ago. Additionally, explorers like Marco Polo are responsible for having carried the spices of the Far East back to Europe, so the combination of all the activity along the ancient Royal Route and Silk Route contributed to the creation of the hodgepodge of foods that are all linked together, while being distinctly different!

Cabbage rolls fall into that category! Food historians have a heyday identifying the real origin of cabbage rolls! Many cultures claim ownership!

Home cooks in Eastern European countries (Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria) make similar recipes and celebrate Christmas Holidays with this meal. According to Once Upon a, Jewish recipes for what is called ‘holishkls’ include raisins, brown sugar, lemon and tomato with ground meat. They are served during their religious fall harvest festival. All the names are different, and the ingredients range from including chopped mint and paprika to including dill. Some are served with a tomato sauce and others are served with a side of sour cream. Some of the names are linked to the French recipe for actual pigeons or doves wrapped in cabbage leaves. Many call cabbage rolls ‘little pigeons’ or ‘little doves’, even though the meat is ground beef, pork or lamb. Some are browned and brazed and other recipes call for steaming.

One recipe includes serving the cabbage rolls with a drizzle of lingonberry jam. Does that sound unusual? Without detailing the history of Sweden’s Charles XII and Russia’s Peter the Great, just know that Peter had 45,000 soldiers and Charles only had 14,000. Charles and some of his soldiers escaped a losing battle and self-exiled in Turkey. While in Turkey, Charles XII grew to love Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves. After returning to Sweden, Charles shared the recipe and gave birth to K√•ldolmar – the Swedish Cabbage Roll. We can date an early recipe to 1755, when a cookbook by Cajsa Warg was published. The dish is so popular, a special day is designated to celebrate it. November 30th (also the day Charles died in battle in 1718) is the ‘Day of the Cabbage Roll’!

European immigrants brought their own versions of cabbage roll recipes with them to America. Recipes show up in most early American cookbooks and continue to make the pages of comfort food cookbooks today. In my favorite vintage period, the 1950s, the recipes ranged from using pickled cabbage leaves … to smothering the rolls with stewed tomatoes … to topping the rolls with shredded cabbage or Sauer kraut … to adding a final topping of sour cream. In my childhood home, our cabbage rolls were smothered in stewed tomatoes and Mother’s home-canned stewed tomatoes always included celery seed, mustard seed and a little bit of sugar. Mama could turn a pound of ground beef into enough filling for 12 – 16 cabbage rolls!

I make my cabbage rolls the same way Mother made them! My husband and my daddy could nearly eat their weight in those cabbage rolls and if they were still at my table, I’d never change my method! However, I wanted to try something different so this week I stuffed cabbage leaves with a lightly flavored rice mixture. Try this and serve it with a grilled chicken breast and a few slices of field ripened tomato. You will love it.

Lemon Tarragon Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Cabbage Rolls:
6 cabbage leaves
1 cup jasmine rice
Lemon infused olive oil
1 Tablespoon chopped Mexican Tarragon
1 lemon
1 egg
½ cup shredded Swiss cheese

2 T butter
2 T flour
2 cups Half and Half
Zest from half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Remove the outer six cabbage leaves and place them in boiling water for a couple minutes. Remove and drain. The leaves should be pliable.

Sauté the rice in a Tablespoon of lemon infused oil. When the rice begins to brown, add 2 cups of water and cook the rice on a simmer (with a lid) until it is done. Let the rice cool slightly before adding the cheese, egg and tarragon. Prepare the cabbage leaves by cutting the thick central stem from each leaf. Roll a scoop of rice in each leaf, folding the sides in before you roll. In a couple Tablespoons of lemon infused oil, gently brown the rolls in a heavy skillet. Add a cup of water to the skillet; slice half the lemon and place a slice of lemon on each roll; put the lid on the skillet and steam the cabbage rolls for 25 minutes. Remove the cabbage rolls to a serving platter and make the sauce in the same skillet.

Add 2 Tablespoons of butter to the skillet and when it melts, stir in 2 Tablespoons of flour. Let the roux cook for a couple minutes, then whisk in the Half and Half. Add the zest and the juice of half the lemon and cook until the sauce thickens. Serve the sauce with the cabbage rolls.

These cabbage rolls are flavorful, but not too rich and filling. They make a nice side dish served with grilled meat.

This post is part of my 2020 Vintage Vegetable project. If you’d like to read similar articles, just click the menu button. I’ll be sharing with some blog parties, so take a look at my list on the sidebar … and click through to see the partiers! Happy 4th of July! Let Freedom Ring!

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